Preparedness Steps

Health Department Progress
In the last year, the Cape May County Health Department has made major inroads in preparing its response in the event of a public health threat stemming from a terrorist act.

The Health Department conducts a daily review of symptoms reported by people who seek help at emergency rooms at all Cape May County hospitals. The hospitals report this information daily, enabling the department to more readily detect emerging patterns of infectious disease, including foodborne illness or any unusual patterns of respiratory distress. With this surveillance system in place, county public health officials can better respond in real time to a health crisis in progress.

The Health Department’ Public Health Preparedness Committee is conducting emergency management exercises attended by personnel from all sectors of emergency response. These exercises are helping to clarify the roles and responsibilities of hospitals, emergency service workers, law enforcement and agencies such as the CDC, so they may better work together in the event of an emergency.

In the near future, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services is expected to finalize its award of a $500,000 grant to the Health Department. This new funding will enhance existing systems to build a highly competent public health infrastructure offering Cape May County residents the highest degree of readiness and public health protection. This funding will be used to hire specialized personnel to focus on emergency preparedness for bioterrorist events, emerging infectious diseases and other public health threats. Work accomplished in the next year by specially-trained personnel will exponentially expand department efforts to fight manmade and naturally-occurring public health threats.

Watch & Wait
Being alert to your surroundings is the first and best thing you can do to keep from being victimized by terrorists. In the event that an attack does occur, you need to remain calm. Panic only adds to the confusion and increases problems. Realize that our government agencies and public health, safety and law enforcement agencies are world class. They are focusing tremendous efforts and resources on combating terrorism. Follow their instructions with patience, calm and trust.

Worst Case
Your life and the lives of others can depend on your response to a terror attack. Try to stay calm so that you can think straight.

Here are a few simple tips that could improve the outcome of a terrible situation:
  • After an explosion, exit the building quickly and calmly. If items are falling get under a sturdy table or desk.
  • If a biological attack occurs, follow the authorities' instructions for evacuation or quarantine. Any severe flu-like symptoms or cough should be examined by a doctor.
  • If a chemical attack occurs in your building, evacuate quickly and calmly. Go to an area upwind of the building and wait for emergency assistance.
  • If a chemical attack occurs in your city, wait for the authorities to inform you which is safer -- evacuating the area or "sheltering in place."
  • If there is fire or smoke, crawl under the smoke to the nearest exit, covering your nose and mouth with a wet cloth. Test doors for heat with the back of your hand. If cool, brace yourself behind the door and open slowly. If hot, find an alternate escape route.
  • If you are trapped in debris, limit your movements to keep the dust level low. Cover your face with clothing and avoid shouting to prevent inhaling dust. Tap on pipes or walls to help resources find you.
  • It is critical to know exit routes and locations of first-aid kits.
Clean Air
Many potential terrorist attacks could send tiny microscopic "junk" into the air. For example, an explosion may release very fine debris that can cause lung damage. A biological attack may release germs that can make you sick if inhaled or absorbed through open cuts. Many of these agents can only hurt you if they get into your body, so think about creating a barrier between yourself and any contamination.

Nose & Mouth Protection
Face masks or dense-weave cotton material, that snugly covers your nose and mouth and is specifically fit for each member of the family. Do whatever you can to make the best fit possible for children.

Be prepared to improvise with what you have on hand to protect your nose, mouth, eyes and cuts in your skin. Anything that fits snugly over your nose and mouth, including any dense-weave cotton material, can help filter contaminants in an emergency. It is very important that most of the air you breathe comes through the mask or cloth, not around it. Do whatever you can to make the best fit possible for children. There are also a variety of face masks readily available in hardware stores that are rated based on how small a particle they can filter in an industrial setting.

Given the different types of attacks that could occur, there is not one solution for masking. For instance, simple cloth face masks can filter some of the airborne "junk" or germs you might breathe into your body, but will probably not protect you from chemical gases. Still, something over your nose and mouth in an emergency is better than nothing. Limiting how much "junk" gets into your body may impact whether or not you get sick or develop disease.

Sheltering in Place During a Radiation, Chemical or Biological Emergency
With recent terrorist events, many people have wondered about the possibility of a terrorist attack involving radioactive, chemical or biological materials. People who live near but not in the immediate area of the attack may be asked to stay home and take shelter rather than try to evacuate. This action is called "sheltering in place." Because many radioactive and biological materials rapidly decay and dissipate, staying in your home may protect your from exposure to the threat. The thick walls of your home may block much of the harmful effects. Taking a few simple precautions can help you reduce your exposure. This fact sheet has been prepared to help you protect yourself and your family and to help you prepare a safe and well-stocked shelter.

Preparing a Shelter in Your Home
The safest place in your home during an emergency involving radioactive, chemical or biological materials is a centrally located room or basement. This area should have as few windows as possible. The further your shelter is from windows, the safer you will be.

Preparation is the key. Store emergency supplies in this area. An emergency could happen at any time, so it is best to stock supplies in advance and have everything that you need stored in the shelter.

Every 6 months, check the supplies in your shelter. Replace any expired medications, food, or batteries. Also, replace the water in your shelter every 6 months to keep it fresh.

Make sure that all family members know where the shelter is and what it is for. Caution them not to take any items from that area. If someone "borrows" items from your shelter, you may find that important items are missing when they are most needed.

If you have pets, prepare a place for them to relieve themselves in the shelter. Pets should not go outside during an emergency because they may track radioactive, chemical or biological materials from fallout into the shelter. Preparing a place for pets will keep these materials from getting inside the shelter.

Preparing Emergency Supplies
Prepare a family disaster supplies kit and have available emergency food and water.

Tips Before Entering a Shelter
If you are outside when the alert is given, try to remove clothing and shoes and place them in a plastic bag before entering the house. During severe weather, such as extreme cold, remove at least the outer layer of clothes before entering the home to avoid bringing radioactive, chemical or biological material into your shelter. Leave clothing and shoes outside. Shower and wash your body with soap and water. Removing clothing will eliminate 90% of contamination. By taking this simple step, you will reduce the time that you are exposed and also your risk of injury. Before entering the shelter, turn off fans, air conditioners, and forced-air heating units that bring air in from the outside. Close and lock all windows and doors, and close fireplace dampers.

When you move to your shelter, use duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal any doors, windows, or vents.

Keep your radio tuned to an emergency response network at all times for updates on the situation. The announcers will provide information about when you may leave your shelter and whether you need to take other emergency measures.